The importance of plain writing in ship management manuals and procedures

In October 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama signed the Plain Writing Act of 2010, a law that revolutionized the way the government communicates with the public. The essence of this law is “to enhance citizen access to Government information and services by establishing that Government documents issued to the public must be written clearly and for other purposes”. The U.S. Government wanted public documents to be clear, direct, and easily understandable by the citizens in order to optimize the efficiency in both the public and private sectors.

The shipping industry, unfortunately, has been slow in adopting this principle. Many ship management companies still produce manuals and procedures that are complicated and written in a language that is hard to understand. The additional requirements brought about by the TMSA have further aggravated this issue. Instead of simplifying their documentation, some companies have reacted to the TMSA’s requirements in a state of panic, leading to even more complex and confusing manuals.

This reaction is far from the optimum.

Seafarers need clear, concise information to act promptly and efficiently. The issue goes beyond achieving operational results. It is primarily a matter of safety and emergency readiness. Investigations into maritime incidents frequently highlight that the root cause of accidents often lies in unclear procedures, complex maintenance instructions, and confusing emergency preparedness guidelines. The lack of clarity leads to frustration and disorientation among the crew.

Making the language in these manuals more straightforward is not a simple task. It requires a deep understanding of the procedures being described. Yet, it’s an investment that can yield significant returns in terms of safety and operational efficiency.

Institutions like the International Maritime Organization and Class Societies should recognize and promote the importance of plain language in ship management manuals and documentation.

The Plain Writing Act has shown us that clear communication is not just a convenience; it’s a critical element of safety and effectiveness.

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Link to the Plain Writing Act (13 October 2010): Plain Writing Act